Why Was the Bill of Rights Created?

The Bill of Rights was created to protect the civil liberties of American citizens and prevent the government from abusing power. The first 10 amendments were ratified as a compromise between Federalists and Antifederalists, politicians who debated the federal government’s degree of authority over state legislatures and individual citizenship rights.

After overthrowing the British in the Revolutionary War, the former colonists were hesitant to form a potentially tyrannical federal government with the unrestrained power to impose harsh laws and taxes. While Federalists aimed to defend civil liberties, they also resented the inadequate federal authority granted under the Articles of Confederation and hoped to remedy those flaws using the Constitution.

When plans for the Constitution were proposed, the Antifederalists disputed many federal powers, including the presidential veto and the seemingly omnipotent Supreme Court. To avoid the ambiguities faced under British rule, the Antifederalists demanded a formal statement of civil liberties modeled after the Virginia Constitution.

The resultant Bill of Rights outlines the restrictions on governmental power, and the first eight amendments specifically describe the freedoms and rights guaranteed to citizens. For example, the First Amendment restricts the government from imposing a national religion and grants citizens and media institutions freedom of speech without fear of penalties. Amendments Five through Eight prevent the government from punishing citizens for crimes without following judicial procedures, such as providing jury trials and allowing witness testimony.